More than ever before, meditation is being researched by science. Because of advances in imaging technology, such as fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, we can now see much more than we used to about the inner workings of our brains. Since many scientists are baby boomers who grew up around meditation or maybe have meditated themselves over the last 30 years, it’s not surprising that they are interested in discovering what science has to say about the benefits and effects that may come from meditation practices.

In one recent presentation, a scientist discussed how a Buddhist monk lying in an fMRI machine was producing gamma brain waves at much higher levels than ever observed before. They claimed the brain waves were linked to compassionate thoughts and feelings.

This lecturer next suggested that 40,000 hours of meditation practice gave the monk the ability to reach these unusual states. "Imagine what meditation can do for you!" he exclaimed.

Actually, based on what he said, we have no way even guess what meditation could do for us.

This monk may very well have been the "Tiger Woods" of the meditation world. We don't look at Tiger Woods golfing and think, "Gosh, all I have to do to be just like Tiger Woods is practice golf for twenty minutes, twice a day." Yet when we learn about meditators who practice hours and hours every day for many years, we are often told, "If they experience these things, so can you!"

Think about it. Does the experience of someone who meditates "professionally," someone who had the wherewithal to spend all those decades in contemplative meditation and also is built to handle being celibate and living in a monastery… is his experience actually comparable, or even relevant, to those who are running around picking up the kids from soccer practice in their SUVs?

Several of my close friends have been monks in various schools of meditation. The key word in that sentence is "been." They lived as monks once upon a time, and now they don't. A person who survives decades of living a monastic life is a different type of person from someone who doesn’t.

I suspect that long-term monks are born rather than made, similar to how others might be born with a talent for numbers that would make them choose to be accountants rather than race car drivers.

It would be great if what we learn from examining these Mozarts of the meditation world would provide useful information to those of us who are still practicing chopsticks. But I hope that we don't try to make irrelevant or false comparisons with those people out of a fascination with meditation and a desire to be free of our daily life's difficulties. After all, the only thing worse than not getting the help we seek is having our hopes built up and then dashed by false promises.

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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